The Bills first team offense had trouble moving the ball early, and the defense gave up a few too many big plays putting Buffalo in a 16-7 halftime hole. Vince Young and the second team offense pulled them back into the game with a four-play 80-yard touchdown drive to make it 16-14 early in the third. But it was as close as the Bills would get with a pair of late interception returns by Minnesota putting the game out of reach in a 36-14 loss to the Vikings.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense got off to a slow start with the first two possessions gaining just six yards on eight plays. The run game didn't yield much in the way of production early as Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller combined for just one yard rushing on their first five carries combined.
"We had too many negative plays in the run game," said head coach Chan Gailey. "We cannot have those and we have some things to fix. We did not game plan as much, but there are certainly some things we can fix. You cannot make third down-and-12s. We have to have better situations than that."
Early in the second quarter the Bills found their rhythm with a drive start at their own 39. After a five-yard run by C.J. Spiller on first down and an eight-yard catch along the sideline by David Nelson, Fitzpatrick hit Stevie Johnson for a 17-yard gain, but he was stripped of the ball. Fortunately Donald Jones recovered at the Vikings 46.
Fred Jackson then ripped off a 20-yard run to set up 1st-and-10 at the Minnesota 26-yard line. Following a delay of game penalty, Fitzpatrick hit Jones coming across the middle with Jones outracing the secondary to the left front corner of the end zone for a 31-yard catch and run touchdown.
"It felt really good to get into the end zone," said Jones. "What happened on the play was I think they blitzed and the middle was wide open and I knew Fitz was going to come to me. Once I caught the ball I just had the mindset to not let them tackle me."
"We got a little bit going," said Ryan Fitzpatrick. "Donald made a really nice run after catch there and again just working through the kinks. We were a little bit cleaner, but not where we wanted to be obviously and we'll go back and look at the film. We've got a big week coming up here where we'll probably do a little bit of game planning this week so hopefully we can come out against a really good defense and play better."
The defense had trouble early when it came to surrendering big plays. On the Vikings first possession they traded sacks for big gainers. After a 21-yard pass play to Percy Harvin, Marcell Dareus dropped Christian Ponder for a sack. Jerome Simpson then followed with a leaping reception for a 33-yard pickup. Kyle Williams answered with a sack for an eight-yard loss.
"I really felt like Kyle was getting off the ball well," said Dareus. "I was getting off the ball as well, but he gets off the ball really hard and it helps bring the action to all of us on the front line. Mark (Anderson), Kyle, and Mario (Williams) – they all keep contain and it allows us to go to work on the inside. I think our pass rush will just continue to get better."
But Toby Gerhart ripped off a 16-yard run up the middle to set up a 3rd-and-2 at the four-yard line. Ponder got the first down on a scramble before FB Jerome Felton scored on a one-yard touchdown reception (7-0).
"You've got to take advantage of the sacks and stop drives," said Gailey. "Normally sacks stop drives and we've got to continue to work defensively to keep them reeling once we create that sack situation."
Buffalo's defense gave up six plays of 20 yards or more in the first half, which included a pair of Joe Webb scrambles that totaled 64 yards. Minnesota had eight plays of 20 yards or more in the game. Missed tackles and overpursuit by the Bills' defenders appeared to open up gaps for the Vikings to exploit.
"Mental errors," said Dareus. "We are the masters of our own destiny and we can't give up big plays like that. We will just continue to work on that phase of the game in practice every day."
Fortunately the Bills defense was able to hold when it mattered most forcing the Vikings to settle for four field goal attempts, three of which were made by rookie kicker Brian Walsh to give Minnesota a nine-point advantage at halftime (16-7).
Buffalo also got a turnover when after a 26-yard pass play Stephen Burton was stripped by Leodis McKelvin and safety Delano Howell recovered at the Bills' 33.
"I was just out there trying to make a play for the team," said McKelvin. "I was in the right position to finish the play and create a turnover on the tackle."
Fitzpatrick and the starters gave way to Vince Young and the second team offense at that point, but they couldn't convert the turnover into points. It wasn't until the first drive of the second half by Buffalo that they put another seven on the board.
On the first play from scrimmage Young unloaded a bomb and T.J. Graham ran a streak down the right sideline and pulled in the deep ball for a 64-yard play. It set up 1st-and-10 at the Minnesota 16. Three plays later Tashard Choice crossed the goal line on a one-yard touchdown run to make it a two-point game after Rian Lindell's extra point (16-14).
"Choice did a great job of reading the blocks and pounding it in," said Young. "Our offensive line we had some great communication at the line of scrimmage. That whole drive we were making sure we were all on the same page. When I stepped in the huddle I told the guys we're going to take it one play at a time. If we make a mistake we put it behind us. We'll watch it on Monday. Just take one play at a time all the way down the field and the guys did that."
A field goal drive by Minnesota's second unit made it 19-14 with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, and Tyler Thigpen and the third string offense couldn't close the gap.
Thigpen did move the offense deep into Minnesota territory, but they could not convert a 4th-and-5 at the Vikings 22 as his completion to Ruvell Martin came up a yard short.
A 48-yard pass play between Sage Rosenfels and Eddie Arcenaux late in the fourth quarter set up a 30-yard field goal with just under five minutes remaining to make it an eight-point game (22-14). That was followed by a pair of Audie Cole interception returns for touchdowns on back-to-back plays to put the game out of reach (36-14) with three minutes to play.
Other notesThe Bills registered three sacks in the game. Marcell Dareus, Dwan Edwards and Kyle Williams had the quarterback takedowns.
In the battle of number two signal callers Vince Young finished the game 8-14 for 123 yards and led a touchdown drive.
Tyler Thigpen went 8-15 passing for 56 yards with an interception returned for a touchdown.
Young players that turned in strong performances Friday night included Ron Brooks, who built off his first preseason game against Washington with a four-tackle effort and generally good coverage in pass defense.
Safety Delano Howell again got reps with the second team at free safety teaming with Da'Norris Searcy and contributed four tackles and a fumble recovery.
Naaman Roosevelt led the team in receptions with six catches for 60 yards.
T.J. Graham had a pair of catches for 69 yards including a big 64-yarder that led to Buffalo's second touchdown. He also had a pair of punt returns with a long of 14 yards and a 23-yard kick return.